The first annual Northern Prairie Star Fest took place on July 21 through July 23, 1995 at the Deneb Observatory, located some ten miles west of Sarles, North Dakota. It was co-sponsored by Mr. John Leppert, chief astronomer of the Deneb Observatory and the Northern Sky Astronomical Society of Grand Forks. The observing site is situated close to the Canadian border and in the midst of enormous wheat farming territory. The night skies were extremely dark, and sky glow was simply not a factor. The participants came from North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Saskatoon. The official roster shows:
Terry Gregoire and family
John and Jill Leppert
Bob, Marta and Robbie Schmall
When your humble scribe and Tim Sutton rolled in on Friday, July 21st, we were immediately impressed by the city of Sarles. Sporting a town square, carefully landscaped and paved with what looked to be Brule clay blown in from the Badlands, it in fact had all of the necessities crucial to a star party. That is, the city had a tavern featuring ice.
After stocking up on provisions, we headed to the Deneb Observatory. It was a fine afternoon for a drive, with partly cloudy skies and a very reasonable temperature. The road out of Sarles to the star party gave rise to unexpected benefits. I found that the chance to re-learn the long forgotten art of collimation was thrown into my lap. Moreover, I had the opportunity to bone up on my orienteering skills. That Towner County road engineer is some jokester! Did I mention that the tavern in Sarles does a brisk trade in Preparation H? Upon pulling in to the observing site, we were greeted by Ron, Bob, Marta and Robbie, who had already set up camp. After rummaging around in the shed we eventually located John, our host, who was busy doing something or other. Tim and I were sorely disappointed when we introduced ourselves to John. During the first minute of conversation, all he could talk about was how fine a person was Anita Bryant, and the large posters of Newt Gingrich, Joe Pyne and Allan Ginsberg in the chemicals shed put us off a bit. However, we were determined to enjoy ourselves and so decided to make the most of a sour experience. Tim and I pitched our campsite. What the hey; this is a star party! So, thinking of the extreme edges of the moon's disk, we poured our first libration of the weekend. While lounging in folding chairs and waiting for darkness, Tim and I met some of our fellow stargazers. One by one, the other participants arrived. First, Al came by who had many tales of Wisconsin life to relate. Then John Nordlie popped up, followed by Dean, Milly and Larry.
After supper, the sky began to darken and a hush fell on the site. It was obvious that we were in for some very decent skies. The telescopes began to sprout in the field near the observatory and once twilight evaporated, the game was afoot. In the strict interest of accuracy, however, I am forced to report that the evening was spoiled by our host in a multitude of ways. First, the Deneb Observatory sports a cassette tape and compact disc player, and John insisted on blasting all manner of French music as the night wore on. Need I mention that this frazzled the nerves of the largely Teutonic crowd which had gathered here in the midst of the prairie? Moreover, after the clouds came in and brought the session to a close, our host forced me to sit up and drink scotch whiskey 'til all hours of the night. Me; the abstemious chap from Minnesota! I felt obligated to join him in refreshment after refreshment as dawn bore down even more closely. I finally escaped his grasp and turned in. Later I found out that John is notorious for staying awake all night.
The following morning Tim and I had a light breakfast, and engaged in more conversation with the various participants. By this time Erich had arrived and proceeded to pitch his pup tent. Erich also brought his entire wardrobe, kitchenette set including a fourteen-burner cook stove, nine-tenths of Imelda Marcos' footwear and other accouterments necessary to bivouac life. It's just too bad that there was no room left in his car to bring a telescope.
A trip to the International Peace Garden was planned for 10:00 this morning, and so at 12:30 we headed off to the garden of Eden on the border. We car pooled. Our driver was Tim, and the passengers included Milly, Dean and me. Not to be overly critical, but I must record that the outing was sullied somewhat by Dean. Tim, Milly and I, of course, are used to a more genteel way of life, but Dean apparently has led a rougher existence. His language was redolent of a stevedore as he uttered all manner of profanities. By the time we had passed Rolla, North Dakota he had rummaged into his backpack and pulled out various copies of Oui, Stag and Cheri magazines. The rest of us tried to ignore him as he salivated heavily in the back seat.
At the Peace Garden, Tim and I were acutely aware of our responsibilities as good citizens. After all, we were tourists representing the United States of America, and were determined to behave in a courteous, decent and honorable fashion. Unfortunately, Milly didn't see things our way. Not far from the excellent Arboretum, we caught him making obscene bobbing gestures with his head at a Canadian woman, from just behind a Forsythia bush. I had a few words with him, but it was clear that the fruit salad he had consumed earlier had addled his noggin. We rapidly escorted Milly to the U.S. side of the garden where he would blend in more handily with the visitors from California.
By 5:30 that night, everyone had returned to the Deneb Observatory. Pat and Terry had now arrived. Pat kept asking all of us if we had suffered any neck injuries on the road to the farm. His concern for us was most touching; I'm guessing that his profession must be in medicine, else why should he be so concerned about neck injuries in the cars?
By 6:00 the barbecue was under way. John and Jill laid on an incredible spread consisting of grilled hamburgers, potato salad, cole slaw, veggies and dip, baked beans, various melons, and who knows what else. It was a great meal!
The homemade baked beans (two varieties) were especially tasty and several gallons were consumed by all. Despite the fact that everyone enjoyed them tremendously, I must report that the consequences were a bit discouraging for a star party. I'm no expert in these things, but as the evening telescope sessions wore on, it became obvious that the limiting magnitude around the observing site was dropping rapidly. By the time my eyes succumbed to the hydrogen sulfide fumes (about 2:00 am, CDT), I was no longer able to detect Vega naked eye. On the other hand, M33 in Triangulum popped right out, as I made it a point to announce. All I got in return were some disjointed mutterings from the others --- something about Timothy Leary, the National Enquirer and astigmatism.
Once again, like clockwork, John and his music system brought discouragement. This time around, he popped in some music which was quite foreign to all of us. I'm not exactly sure who the composer was, but by 12:30, CDT, everyone's heels were clicking together in unison and I overheard many comments concerning the Fatherland. And not to be repetitive, but after the session came to a close, John insisted that I sit up with him (again!), way later than I would have preferred. The scotch whiskey (this time it was Old Sediment Bed) ran out, and then he tapped a keg of fuel oil which had a substantially better bouquet. Pat joined in to and led us in several refrains of "On the Road to Mandalay." I suspected that he was becoming a bit tiddly. John, of course, was absolutely blotto.
After the usual shrieks in the night, part and parcel of any star party, I drifted into the arms of Morpheus. Actually, given the randy nature of this crowd, I'm not sure whose arms they were. Well, this recollection must come to an end, for Sunday morning brought our farewells to the Northern Plains Star Fest. Tim and I broke camp, as indeed some of the others were doing. Since we had a long jaunt ahead of us, we two left fairly early. Numerous handshakes and oaths of fidelity and felicity were exchanged. As my record indicates, this had been a superior star party, with a superior group. I now understand why the lads we met earlier this month in Sturgis were unwilling to come to Sarles. I'll always remember the warnings given us that these North Dakotan amateur astronomers were a warm lot.
And, I'll finish with: a big thanks to John, Jill and the Northern Sky Astronomical Society for one of the best experiences of my life! We had great companionship, great food and great skies, didn't we!
Thomas "Life Imitates Art" Henry
The 1995 Dakota Astronomical Society Star party
"Dances with Buffalo"
by John Nordlie
In July of 1995, having enjoyed the 1995 Prairie Star Fest star party of the Northern Skies Astronomical Society (NSAS) a week before, three members of the NSAS decided to attend the Dakota Astronomical Society's annual summer star party held in the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Those members were Dean Smith, Chris 'Milly' Millford, and me.
The Prairie Star Fest had been a real blast: near perfect weather, almost no bugs, good camping conditions, etc. Almost to the man, though, all three of us had brought way too much gear. So, we decided that this trip would be a much more 'minimalistic' one in terms of supplies and support equipment. Our gear for the Star Fest had included (among other things) three telescopes, eyepieces, binoculars, a stereo, a personal computer, a tent big enough to hold a small circus, way too much food, and enough games and books to keep us busy for weeks. We took with us only necessities this time: three one-man tents, three pairs of binoculars, two coolers of food, a small propane grill, clothes, cameras, and other misc. camping equipment. We squeezed all this in the trunk of my Taurus sedan, and we were off!
The north unit of Roosevelt Park is located between Watford City and Grassy Butte ND, just a few miles east of the Montana border. The drive from Grand Forks took about 7 hours, the terrain changing from the ultra-flat Red River valley to the rolling hills of the North Dakota Badlands. The population grows pretty sparse in the west end of the state, but we were surprised to drive by two casinos, a manufacturing building for Grumman Aerospace, and a mile-long suspension bridge so narrow that there was barely enough room for two cars to pass each other. Upon arriving at the park, we obtained a map and proceeded to drive basically in circles searching for the group camping area. After a few false starts, it was located, and we pitched our tents amid a swarm of marauding mosquitoes.
Tents set up, gear stowed away, we started our tour of the park. The main park drive is basically one road that twists and turns through the hills of the badlands. We were told that in this park, with so little tourist traffic at any time of the year, we would be likely to encounter wildlife not overly skittish of man. Our hopes were answered when we spied two deer grazing in a field along the drive. We stopped and observed them with our binoculars for a time, then drove on. Around the next bend, we saw what we had been hoping to see: buffalo. There were three of them grazing leisurely about 200 feet from the road. Again we stopped and brought out the binocs. After many 'cool' and 'awesome' comments, we proceeded toward the star party observation site. About two miles down the road, we came upon two more buffalo, this time about 20 feet from the road! We stopped to look them over (from the safety of the car, of course B), but they sauntered off down the way we had come. Our next encounter was not much later, when coming around a bend, we came upon about six of the beasts, laying or lounging about on the road. At this point, the experience was still kind of neat, but it was starting to grow just a little irksome. The big bull lying across the lane I wanted to drive one gave us a look that said, "Yeah, what are ya gonna do about it?" We did what seemed the sensible thing at the moment, which was nothing. The buffalo were completely unafraid of our car and us. After we sat there in a Mexican standoff for about 5 minutes, a truck came up the road behind us. The driver obviously had experience with the beasts, as he laughed at our predicament, passed us, and proceeded to slowly but surely crowed the animals off the road. Now, I've heard of angry buffalo overturning vans, so I was not about to pit my poor little Taurus against these big furry oafs, but it seemed you could get them moving as long as you did it gently. We followed in the truck's wake, and after two more incidents of buffalo blocking the road, we arrived at the observation site.
Oxbow Overlook is where the park road ends and loops back in to itself. The overlook faces south from the top of a hill, and the scenery was magnificent. A steep hill side drops away to a lush river valley, with the striated hills of the badlands in the far distance. A fresh breeze was blowing up the hill side, there were buffalo in the distance on the river shore, and the angle of the sun made the whole scene look like something out of a post card. About this time, Tom Gall (old college roommate, officer of the DAS) arrived on the scene. He and I were catching up on old times, when Dean and Milly decided to go exploring down the face of the hill. Now the hill is pretty steep, but can be navigated with care by people of average shape without climbing gear, so Dean and Milly decided to go all the way to the bottom of the valley, some 800 feet below. I was telling Tom of our encounters with the buffalo, when we happened to spy two of the beasts emerging from the trees by the river below us. We watched them walk along a well-worn game trail toward the water, when we noticed that Dean and Milly had reached the bottom, and were rather near them. We shouted and waved to them to warn them of the approaching creatures (the buffalo, not Dean and Milly), thinking they would wisely move around the trees and hide before they were seen. Dean heard us, looked at them, and exclaimed, "Cool! Buffalo!". The buffalo heard this, of course, and both turned to look at Dean and Milly. There was then one of those silent pauses you run in to in life, where everyone stops and just sort of waits to see what is going to happen. The buffalo then started moving directly toward our two intrepid adventurers, and Tom yelled to inform them that buffalo are very territorial and that they should perhaps get the hell out of there. So began the Great Pursuit. Dean and Milly began climbing back up the path with renewed vigor, and the buffalo came after at a leisurely pace . Dean picked the steepest, most treacherous path back up the hillside, saying to Milly that, "They can't possibly follow us up this!" Shortly after, the buffalo hopped nimbly as mountain goats up the path, demonstrating to Dean exactly who it was that had made the path in the first place. This, along with shouted encouragement by Tom, so me curious on-lookers, and I, got Dean and Milly moving up the hill even faster. Judging by their speed, I calculated the buffalo would easily catch the pair before they were halfway up the hill, and informed them of this point. Even with this motivation, the buffalo did catch up to them about 200 feet short of the top, at which time the critters held up short and waited for the pair to complete each leg before they followed. It became clear at this point that the buffalo were acting more like they were impatiently waiting for the two clumsy humans to get their buts up the path so they could use it, than hunting cats playing with their prey. When Dean the Milly reached the top, the buffalo also came up, and sauntered across the parking lot and down the road.
Dean was tired, but OK. Milly looked as if he might need CPR at any minute (he was the rearmost of the two on the climb and therefore closest to their pursuers). After about 20 minutes of immobilization and about a gallon of Gatorade later, he pronounc ed himself fit to walk again. Since he is part Native American, I told Milly he should change his name to 'Dances with Buffalo'. He didn't think that was too funny. Oh well.
We returned to camp for dinner, then lounged around for a while, swapping star party horror stories. When dusk fell, we returned to the site, and were treated to some of the darkest skies and most beautiful observing conditions I've experienced. Not that it mattered, since we were all dead-tired. Dean and Tom were using Tom's scope to do some deep sky work at the edge of the parking lot. Tom has a beautiful antique railway caboose lantern he uses for a light source during observing. The deep red glass gives off a glow that doesn't affect night vision, while the burning kerosene provides a place to warm your hands on cold nights. As I approached, Dean managed to step on this lantern, which made a sort of crunching sound and went out. I thought for sure that I would next hear sounds of anger and battle from the two, but Tom remained remarkably calm. Dean apologized, and the lantern turned out to be not too badly damaged and still functional. Tom lit it, and gave me a look that said, "Who are these people you brought, and why are they breaking all my equipment?" I joined their observing for a few globular clusters.
Tom left first, since he had been driving for 12 hours that day. Dean, Milly, and I observed until about 11 PM, when we also surrendered to fatigue, and returned to camp.
The next day dawned clear and cool. Over breakfast, Tom related to us the events after he went to bed but before the rest of us arrived. It seems he had just bedded down, when the outside light on the nearby public bathroom suddenly went out. There was a sound: 'thud...thud...Thud...THUD', and then some very loud snuffling. Tom realized that the light had not gone out, but that his entire tent was in the shadow of a very large buffalo, who had walked up to his tent and was sniffing at it, less than two feet from where he lay! "Please don't trample me, Mr. Buffalo!", he thought. The buffalo, either getting bored or deciding that Tom didn't smell very appetizing, wandered off.
The day was quickly getting warm, so the four of us decided to do
some exploring before the heat of noon forced us back to the shade of the
campground trees. We spied the largest hill in the park just opposite the
road from our camp, outfitted ourselves with cameras, sunscreen, hats, and
canteens, and set off. The hill was steeper than it looked, but contained
all sorts of interesting layers, rock formations, and petrified wood.
Made mostly of sandstone, the footing was treacherous at times, but we
eventually made it to the top (well, Tom and I, the two sufferers of
acrophobia, didn't make the final ascent to the peak). Dean and Milly
were almost blown off by the stiff breeze that suddenly appeared when they
made the peak, while Tom and I didn't feel a thing just 20 feet or so
below on the face. The path we had taken to get up was rather steep at
times, and looked much harder to descend than go up, so we decided to go
down the back side of the hill. I had forgotten to bring a pair of
shorts, and was really feeling the heat now in my black jeans. I was
happy for them, though, when we had to slide down a gully to get back to
the bottom of the hill. We started to hike some other trails near the
base of the hill, but decided it was getting too hot, so we headed back to
It was now mid day, the temp was about 95F and the humidity was uncomfortable (unusual for western North Dakota). After a quick lunch, our crew decided to stay in the shade of the trees at the campground. Milly sat in Tom's new observation chair (padded lawn chair), and somehow managed to break it. Tom was not overly impressed, but shrugged and did his best to repair it. While Tom and I lounged and read in our lawn chairs, Dean and Milly lay down in their tents (which, in the direct sun, must have been hot as saunas). I was still trying to cool off after the hike (unsuccessfully), when I heard some faint sort of grunting sounds. Marking this up to a trick of my overheated brain, I continued reading my book. I was interrup ted when Tom said in a low, tense voice, "Oh boy". I looked up and sure enough, out from the brush near the trees came wandering a bunch of buffalo! This was the largest group we had seen yet, consisting of two bulls, three cows, and a handful of young ones. We had pretty much had our fill of buffalo at this point, and the fact that this small heard was about 150 feet from our campsite and headed our way did not help. Tom and I called to Dean and Milly (deja vu, eh?), telling them what was going on. Dean emerged from his tent and joined us in the shady corner of the camp. Tom and I looked over the terrain in case we had to beat a hasty retreat. The slim bridge over a small creek behind us seemed the best bet if the buffalo became ornery. We took pictures of the beasts as they wandered about, but we noticed that there seemed to be some sort of dispute occurring among them. It was, after all, mating season, and the two bulls were having a rather half-hearted skirmish in the tall grass. We noticed Milly had still not appeared yet (he had fallen asleep in his tent), so we called to him again. In the mean time, the two bulls were chasing around, coming in our general direction. When Milly finally appeared in the door of his tent, the two bulls were only yards away. We informed him of this event,, and I guess the sight of two running bulls finally goaded him in to action. "Oh Shit!", he exclaimed, and he ran for our position, away from the tussling animals. The rest of the heard had arrived in our camp by this time, accompanied by a heard of campers from the other camp sights. They were taking pictures and saying how cool this was (I thought it would be cooler if this was happening in THEIR camp site, not ours, but I digress). One of them was e ven foolish enough to approach one of the calves to take a picture, despite our and many other warnings shouted at him. Now approaching an animal-type young 'un is never a good idea, especially when Mom and Dad are nearby and in a hot and bothered state, but fate smiled on this particular camper, and the animals paid him no heed. The bulls settled whatever it was they were carrying on about, and the heard moved in to the shade of the public bathroom (luckily none of us had to use it at the moment).
Around then Matt McCowan and his brother Seth (two more college buddies of Tom and I) arrived on the scene, and we decided to surrender the campground to the buffalo and go tour the park by car. Matt's car overheated and dumped coolant all over the parking lot at the first scenic outlook we came to. Matt and Seth jumped in to Tom's car, and we continued on, my vehicle leading and Tom following. Around the next bend, what did we encounter? That's right, more buffalo. Blocking the road, of course. I decided to try the crowding trick I had seen the truck do. It seemed that the beasts were far less intimidated by my Taurus sedan than by the pickup, and the furry barricade refused to budge. I went to reverse and try to drive around them, but when I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw four more buffalo move on to the road behind us. We were trapped! The buffalo and Dean, Milly, and I stared at each other, while Tom, Matt, and Seth howled with laughter in Tom's car about 50 feet back. After a few minutes, the buffalo shifted position, and I was able to slip through by driving partially on the shoulder of the road. I was beginning to understand why the settlers of the old west had killed a great many of these annoying beasts ;).
We stayed for dinner at the overlook, but the heat and sun were relentless, like a hot lead weight on your head, so we headed back to work on Matt's car. After discovering that my English tools wouldn't fit the metric fittings on his car, we headed to the park entrance to call Matt's dad for instructions. Having wasted a great amount of time, the problem fixed itself (the car cooled off), and Matt was able to drive it back down the hilly road with no further incidents.
The sun finally began to get low enough in the sky that it wouldn't fry you where you stood, so we went back to the overlook. Dean and Milly went back down the hill to continue their explorations that had been so rudely interrupted the previous day, and Tom and I began setting up for the night's observing. Dean and Milly returned to the site to report no buffalo in sight, but lots of rattle snakes down by the river. One of the rattle snakes decided to come visiting, and was discovered by the son of one of the observers. A park ranger told the kid to keep an eye on the snake while he went to his truck for a snake stick to capture it with. The kid decided the best way to do this was by standing about two feet from it, and his dad didn't seem the least bit concerned. Why the snake didn't bite him, I'll never know, but the ranger came back, grabbed the snake with his stick gizmo, and showed it off to the gathering crowd before putting it in his truck and driving off.
As the sun began to set, the DAS held a meeting, and people began to arrive for the party. After their meeting, two of the DAS folks gave presentations. The mild-mannered president of the society gave a talk on cosmology, followed by a fire-and-brimstone talk on sky lore by a retired surgeon (who used to be a missionary or something, but would have given any tele-vangalist a run for his money that night). The park rangers were in attendance, and while I was talking to one, I overheard a severe weather warning on her radio. When I asked her about that, she replied, "Oh yeah, there are tornado watches for areas north and south of here, but we should be just fine." A quick scan of the sky confirmed that there were some very large thunderheads building to the northwest and southwest of us, but to the west it was clear (weather generally moves from west to east in North Dakota). The twilight was darkening, and the observing begun.
Images in the 12" reflector owned by the DAS were spoiled by wind bouncing the insufficiently rigid mount, but all the smaller instruments were starting to show many details of Saturn and the deep sky. My reclining lounge chair was highly sought after by other observers, so I kept my behind parked on it during the early part of the night (I'm not usually this selfish, but the thought of laying on the same grass that contained rattle snakes and many fresh buffalo patties didn't really appeal to me). The storms to the northwest and southwest were really getting rolling now, the hot, humid day providing lots of energy to drive them. Nearly continuous lightning was playing in and around the northern one, and I sought out the ranger to get an update. Her radio now spoke of tornado and hail warnings, and I was glad they were going to miss us, if only by a few miles.
The thunder from the northwestern storm was now clearly audible, and the lightning strikes were more and more frequent. I abandoned the astronomical observing to look at this grand spectacle of nature. The power of a giant thunderstorm is really quite amazing, and it makes one feel very alive to be so close to it. "Wow", I thought, "That storm sure is close! Man, it's only going to miss us by the narrowest margin. Yep, it's sure not gonna miss us by much. It's JUST going to miss us, it's, ... it's not going to miss us, it's NOT going to miss us!" Thunder rocked the hill top and lightning lit up the surrounding countryside as I told my observing companions this news. I've never been in combat, but I figure that when an army retreats in the face of an advancing foe, the scene must look pretty much like our observing site did just then: chaos. I tossed my chair, binocs, and star charts in the trunk of my car, then went to help Tom disassemble his scope. There were people running everywhere to stow their gear and evacuate the site. Tom, Dean, Milly and I double-checked that all our gear was safely stored in the cars, then jumped in them and began the mad drive down the mountain. The twisty road down was dark as pitch, and a false turn at some points would have sent us falling many hundreds of feet to the rocks below. Running this road at 50 miles per hour, in the dark punctuated by bright flashes of lightning was very exciting. We surprised a large buffalo, already upset by the storm, coming around a tight bend. Tom's car was in the lead, and evaded the animal easily, but it panicked, and came charging at my car. I punched the throttle and we skidded a bit going around the next turn, but we escaped. When we reached the campground, the storm was nearly upon us. Thinking we might have to make a run for it, or that our tents might be destroyed in the storm, we grabbed all our gear and packed it in the cars, keeping only tents, sleeping bags, and flashlights out. The rangers stopped by to check on us and make sure we knew what was going on. The rain fly on my tent was blowing like it wanted to take off, tent and all, straight up in to the night. I grabbed a coil of nylon rope and ran around the perimeter, tying it to the stakes, while Tom secured his flapping tent's loose stakes. Dean was likewise readying for the storm, while Milly helped try to calm the daughter of one of our observing group. The girl was deathly afraid of lightning, and was practically in hysterics, hiding in the bathroom. Since the bathroom was built out of concrete blocks, it seemed the safest place to take shelter if the storm got really bad, or if a tornado should come roaring through the area. When everything was secured as well as possible, I wished my buddies good luck, grabbed my flashlight, and dove in to my tent as the first large drops of rain began to splash on the tent. I climbed in to my sleeping bag, praying that none of the big oak trees around the campground would fall over and squash me in the stormy night to come. The lightning flashed, the thunder crashed, the wind roared like a freight train, and the rain began to splatter the tent walls. And then, it stopped. And the wind stopped. This was more frightening to me than anything, since both these things usually happen just before a twister hits. I unzipped the door of my tent and looked apprehensively at the sky. I was amazed to see: the stars. The storm's edge had passed over us, and left us completely alone. The huge thunderhead continued it's relentless journey to the east, leaving us with clear, quiet skies. Coyotes began howling their eerie songs in the night, but I and the others were too wrung out from the adrenaline rush of preparing for the storm to be bothered. I went back to my tent and fell instantly asleep.
My alarm clock beeped me awake at 6am the next day. I had to be on the road to make an appointment in Bismarck very early, so I got up and got dressed. I heard grunting and shuffling outside, and was prepared to be very angry if more damn buffalo kept me from striking camp and getting out of there on time. I didn't see any of the big furry imps when I peeked out of my tent, though. I was greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes, and stowed my tent and remaining camp gear while swatting at the bloodthirsty little bastards. Dean and Milly proved more difficult to awaken, but eventually we had our tents packed up, garbage disposed of, and were ready to say good-bye to the 1995 DAS star party.
It was quite the adventure. I'm looking forward to 1996, and I just read in the paper that the DNR has released a heard of big-horned sheep in the park. That should make for some even more interesting wildlife encounters! Now, if I can only find a pickup to borrow...
March 22 and March 30 we held a star party to view the magnificent Comet Hyakutake. This recieved lots of press in the Grand Forks Herald and about 500 people showed up. There was a continuous line to enter the observatory, manned by Milly. Dean Smith and John Nordlie brought scopes from home to show the comet to those waiting. Charlie talked to those warming up inside the trailer, telling them about the comet and showing ccd images.
Image courtesy the Dakota Student